Last week I overheard a conversation. The guy said, “A few years back, I rode the train every day to the job I was working then. That time became my listening time, my prayer time. I often prayed for other people in my train compartment, and for those coming and going.
“One day I felt led to pray for a woman sitting across from me. By all appearances, she looked homeless. The urge grew stronger. I wasn’t simply supposed to pray for her. I was supposed to approach her and ask if I could pray with her.
But my stop was coming up, and if I missed it, I would be late to work.”
He paused and looked directly into the eyes of the other person, owning the moment and his own admission. “I didn’t pray with her. I got off the train.
“And I’ve never forgotten that.”
I have regrets, too. Sometimes they are like that man’s, disregarded urges to reach out to a stranger. More often, mine are with people who are part of my family. I have mornings when I drop the kids off at school with a crummy feeling in the pit of my stomach. In the quietness of the post-drop-off, I examine why and realize it’s because of missed opportunities. I fussed instead of listening; I rushed instead of taking a moment to be still and assess; I lost it instead of laughing over something small.
We will always have regrets like these. It’s part of being human, being stuck in time, in moment-by-moment living.
The awful thing about “little” regrets like these is that the choices don’t seem nearly so difficult when we have the privilege of retrospection. In hindsight, I’m sure the teacher would have chosen to be late to work just that one day. I can almost always look back and see the humor in a mess or situation that at the time caused me frustration.
Yet the solution is not simple. It has no formulaic answer. I know that prayer—lots and lots of cries for help—is required. Slowing down helps. “Living at the pace of faith.” (Gotta admit—I stole that one from a church billboard, which has been making me think every time I pass it.)
But when we forget to pray, when slowing down doesn’t seem to be an option, when we’ve been chewed up and spit out by the pace of life, there is the constant of all constants: grace. We need blessed, real grace to actually remember to pray and slow down and live in faith. We also need it because the regrets will continue. We set ourselves up for guilt and shame if we think we can live without regrets, without missing the mark again and again and again.
This is messy sanctification, but it’s real, and it takes us, bit by bit, into a deep assurance that His grace is always greater than our regrets.